Travel Ninja

Discover Zaragoza: [Culture, Cuisine & History]

Exploring Zaragoza, Spain, unveils a treasure trove of cultural and historical riches that might just make you want to extend your trip beyond just a few days. Known as Saragossa in English, this beautiful city nestled in northeastern Spain offers a delightful escape off the beaten tourist trail. I discovered Zaragoza during a journey from Barcelona to Bilbao, and it was an unexpected highlight. The city is brimming with ancient Roman ruins, incredible cathedrals, and some of the finest tapas bars you’ll find outside of Madrid. Whether you have 2-3 days to immerse yourself in its charm or are pressed for time and considering it as a day trip from Barcelona, Zaragoza promises an unforgettable experience.

Where Is Zaragoza Spain

Zaragoza, located in Spain, serves as the vibrant capital of the Aragon region in northeastern Spain. It stands as the fifth largest city by population yet retains a walkable city center brimming with attractions. Situated about 300km (186 miles) from Barcelona, it’s easily accessible by a fast train from Barcelona-Sants to Zaragoza train station in just an hour and a half, making it an ideal day trip. For those coming from Madrid, Zaragoza is roughly 320 km (200 miles) away, with central Madrid to Zaragoza reachable via a fast train journey of an hour and 15 minutes.

Is Zaragoza Worth Visiting?

Absolutely, Zaragoza stands out as a gem worth visiting in Spain, boasting one of the best food scenes and world-class history and museums. Perfect for both the foodie and the history buff, it offers a distinctive city break experience unlike the typical Spanish beach towns like Malaga or Alicante. Instead, it shares the rich cultural tapestry found in places like Seville and Granada. Among the most affordable cities in Spain, Zaragoza’s tourist attractions cost just a fraction of the cost compared to those in Barcelona, Seville, or Madrid, with some offering free entrance. Moreover, food prices at tapas bars are notably lower than those in tourist-heavy spots around Malaga, Marbella, Seville, or Barcelona, making it a budget-friendly yet enriching destination.

Zaragoza Spain

Best Things To Do In Zaragoza, Spain

Palacio de la Aljafería

Visiting the Palacio de la Aljafería in Zaragoza is like stepping into an 11th century tale of Islamic occupation and architectural grandeur. Known originally as Qasr Al-surur, or Palace of Joy, this historical gem has evolved through the ages, adding prison towers and fortified walls, yet retaining its majestic allure. Now serving as the Aragon Parliament, this government building requires visitors to pre-book tickets to explore its opulent halls at their own pace. For those keen on diving deeper into its rich history, free tours in English and Spanish unveil the stories behind each corner, making it an essential visit for capturing those perfect photos and absorbing the essence of Zaragoza’s past.


Palacio de la Aljafería

Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

At the heart of Zaragoza, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar stands as a beacon of exquisite beauty and deep spiritual significance. Known affectionately as el Pilar, this site where Mary is said to have appeared to St. James (or Santiago), with a pillar of jasper, commands reverence and draws pilgrims from around the globe. The jasper, encased in ornate silver, reveals itself during mass on the 2nd, 12th, and 20th of each month, beneath a sculpture of Mary holding baby Jesus. While entry to the inside of the church is free, a small fee of €5 grants access to the bell tower, Torre de San Francisco de Borja, offering unparalleled views over the city.

Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

An elevator ensures everyone can enjoy the panorama without the climb. For those planning to delve deeper into Zaragoza’s religious heritage, a combination ticket with the Cathedral of Salvador offers additional savings, with tickets available through their website.

Catedral del Savador

In the heart of Zaragoza, the Cathedral of Salvador, affectionately known as La Seo, unfolds a rich tapestry of history that captivates every visitor. Your entry ticket unlocks an audio guide available in multiple languages, offering a deep dive into the cathedral’s storied past, from its Mudejar architecture to the dramas that shaped its construction. Originally the site of the Roman Forum and later a Mosque during the Moors’ occupation, La Seo has been reconstructed multiple times, blending Mudejar, Romanesque, and Gothic styles into its stunning facade. Not to be missed is the mesmerizing tiles work, a testament to Zaragoza’s rich cultural heritage and artistry.

Catedral del Savador spain

Arco del Dean

Just a stone’s throw away from the cathedral, the Arch of Dean stands as a testament to Zaragoza’s rich history. Constructed in the 13th century to connect the church with the house of Dean, this arch has seen reconstruction in the 16th century, notably preserving its distinctive windows adorned in the Mudejar style. Not only is this landmark free to visit, but it also serves as a perfect photo op, capturing the essence of Zaragoza’s architectural beauty. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply looking for picturesque spots in the city, the Arch of Dean is a must-see.

Goya Museum

Diving into the artistic legacy of the Zaragoza region, the Goya Museum is a treasure trove showcasing the work and early life of Francisco Goya, one of Spain’s most celebrated artists. Beyond Goya’s creations, the museum houses a collection of over 1,000 pieces of art, spanning fine art from the 18th to the 20th centuries. An entry fee of €8 opens the doors to this cultural haven, although it’s free on the first Wednesday of each month. For those planning a visit, it’s recommended to prebook your tickets via the museum’s website, ensuring a seamless experience into the world of Spanish artistry.

Goya Museum

Zaragoza Museum

At the heart of Zaragoza’s cultural scene, the Zaragoza Museum offers a comprehensive journey through the city’s rich history. This museum is a must-visit for anyone intrigued by Roman history, showcasing fascinating ruins of Roman homes, stone, pottery, and intricately designed mosaics that tell tales of ancient lives. Beyond antiquity, the museum also presents fine arts paintings, including works by the renowned Goya, allowing a glimpse into the artistic evolution of Spain. The best part? A visit to the museum is free, making it an accessible treasure trove for all curious travelers and residents eager to dive deep into the historical and artistic narratives of Zaragoza.

Museo del Teatro de Caesaraugusta

The Museo del Teatro de Caesaraugusta stands as a testament to the grandeur of Roman ruins in Zaragoza, offering a deep dive into the ancient settlement named Caesaragusta by the Romans who once walked its streets. Among the city’s archaeological gems, this site is perhaps the biggest and best, showcasing the remarkably preserved Roman theater that is a marvel of ancient architecture and social life. Visitors have the unique opportunity to gaze upon the theater’s ruins from a balcony, capturing the essence of Roman entertainment and public gatherings. Inside the museum, a rich array of information and interactive displays—available in both Spanish and English—brings the ancient city of Caesaraugusta to life.

Museo del Teatro de Caesaraugusta

With an entry ticket priced at €4 and the option for a multi-museum pass at €7, the museum offers incredible value, especially considering free days and discounted ticket options for students and pensioners. For those looking to immerse themselves in the depth of Zaragoza’s Roman heritage, a visit here is indispensable.

Museo de las Termas Públicas

Diving into the ancient world of a Roman city, the Museo de las Termas Públicas in Zaragoza opens a window to the everyday lives of Romans through its well-preserved ruins of public baths. This small museum centers around the main bath, offering a tangible glimpse into Roman hygiene practices and social gatherings. Informative plaques dot the area, providing insights into the use of each bath and even a Roman toilet, highlighting the communal nature of the baño and the Romans’ unique approach to privacy. It’s a fascinating journey into the past, bringing to life the sophistication and ingenuity of Roman engineering and culture.

Museo del Foro

At the heart of Zaragoza’s historical narrative is the Museo del Foro, located beneath the bustling Plaza del Pilar and the majestic Cathedral of Salvador. This fascinating museum transports you several feet below ground level to the ancient streets of the Roman Forum, once the throbbing pulse of the city of Caesaraugusta. Through detailed recreations of shops and vendors, visitors can vividly imagine the commerce and daily life that flourished here centuries ago. An engaging video elucidates the history of the forum and its significance to Zaragoza, complementing the physical exploration of this archaeological treasure.

Museo del Foro spain

Although second in size to the Theater Museum, the depth of information provided here promises a compelling visit of approximately 30-45 minutes, making it an essential stop for those eager to delve into the city’s rich past.

Museo del Puerto Fluvial

In Roman times, Caesaraugusta stood as a vital hub for goods within the empire, a legacy encapsulated by the Museo del Puerto Fluvial. This museum, situated at the port where the Ebro River once brimmed near the city, unveils the strategic importance of Zaragoza in ancient commerce. The ruins reveal how boats laden with goods were systematically loaded and unloaded, a testament to the city’s bustling activity. Today, the river runs further away, but the museum serves as a poignant reminder of Zaragoza’s historic role in the distribution of goods across Roman cities. This site offers a unique glimpse into the logistical feats of the past, illustrating the city’s pivotal position in the ancient empire’s trade network.

La Lonja

Stepping into La Lonja is like traversing back to the Middle Ages, a time when trade flourished under the arches of this 16th-century marvel. Originally erected as a bustling marketplace for merchants, its proximity to the cathedral and other churches underscored Zaragoza’s economic and spiritual heart. Today, transformed into an exhibition hall under government stewardship, it showcases a variety of exhibits, sometimes featuring works by Goya and other famous artists. Beyond the art, the medieval details of La Lonja’s architecture invite admiration, with free entrance allowing everyone a glimpse into Zaragoza’s rich history.

La Lonja spain

Puente de Piedra

Crossing the Puente de Piedra is like walking through pages of Zaragoza’s history. Built in the 15th century, this enduring attraction faced a devastating flood in the 17th century before being restored and reaching its final form in the 18th century. Guarded by lions, added in 1991 and now a proud symbol of Zaragoza, it offers unique viewpoint areas for breathtaking views of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. Visiting in the late afternoon rewards you with photographic moments where the fading sunlight perfectly frames this historic city, making it an unforgettable part of your visit.

Puente de Piedra spain

Mercado Central de Zaragoza

Strolling through the Mercado Central de Zaragoza, or Central Market, is like taking a step back in time amidst the bustling heart of the city. This market is a treasure trove for those looking to indulge in fresh produce and meat, sourced locally. Situated not far from the lively El Tubo, it stands near ancient Roman ruins and the old Roman walls, with a statue of Caesar Augustus nodding to the city’s historical depth. A visit here offers a glimpse into the traditional Spanish market life, especially vibrant in the mornings when fish and meat stalls are at their busiest. Yet, the market transforms as the day wanes, with happy hour bringing out large beers and tapas for a taste of Zaragoza’s culinary spirit, making it an essential stop for any food lover or history enthusiast exploring Zaragoza.

Homage To The First Football Pitch

For fans of fútbol and lovers of obscure tourist attractions, Zaragoza holds a unique gem – an homage to the first football pitch in the city, and indeed, in all of Aragon. Nestled at the intersection of Avenida San Juan de la Peña and Calle Peña Oroel and Oliván Bayle, this site marks where the first football game was played on May 28, 1922. A simple corner flag and patch of turf commemorate Arrabal, the ground that witnessed this historic match. It’s a must-visit for those looking to connect with the deep-rooted sports history of Zaragoza, offering a moment of reflection on how far the beautiful game has come.

Pabellón Puente

In Zaragoza, the Pabellón Puente stands as a testament to modern architecture and innovation. Designed by the celebrated British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid for the 2008 Expo, this futuristic covered bridge is not just a means to cross the river but a destination in itself. Surrounding the bridge is a vast greenspace, perfect for those looking to relax on a sunny afternoon, take a leisurely walk, or go for a jog. The area also hosts various museums, making it a vibrant hub of culture and activity. This bridge is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary design or seeking a peaceful retreat within the city.

Pabellón Puente expo spain

Aquarium of Zaragoza

The Aquarium of Zaragoza, a marvel created for the 2008 Expo, stands as one of the city’s most enchanting attractions, especially for families with kids. Not only is it the largest in Europe, but it also boasts the largest freshwater aquarium tank—9 meters deep, 45 meters long, and 9 meters wide. Home to over 5,000 animals across 350 species, the central tank alone is a mesmerizing sight that captivates all who visit. With entrance fees set at €17 for adults, €11 for children aged 5-11, and €5 for kids aged 3-4, it offers an unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages, making it a must-visit on any trip to Zaragoza.

Aquarium of Zaragoza spain

Take a Walking Tour

To truly immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Zaragoza’s history, there’s no better way than embarking on a walking tour led by a knowledgeable guide. These tours are not only flexible and affordable but offer the intimacy of a private tour experience, allowing you to delve deeply into the stories behind Zaragoza’s attractions. Whether you’re keen to explore the well-trodden paths or venture off-the-beaten-path, these tours are tailored to unveil the city’s hidden gems and historical secrets, making them an invaluable addition to any Zaragoza itinerary.

Eat Tapas in El Tubo

Diving into Zaragoza’s vibrant cuisine scene becomes an adventure in El Tubo, the heart of downtown Zaragoza, where the night breathes life into the streets with its array of tapas bars. This gastronomic alleyway invites both locals and travelers to indulge in the tradition of tapas bar hopping, offering a palette of flavors that tell tales of history and culture through every bite. For those eager to deepen their understanding of each dish and its location, joining a food tour is a brilliant way to navigate through El Tubo’s culinary treasures, making it an unforgettable part of visiting Zaragoza.

Eat Tapas in El Tubo spain

Best Tapas Bars in El Tubo

Bar El Champi: Known for its cheap beers and the signature mushroom tapa («champi»), which consists of mushrooms cooked in garlic and herb oil and served on bread. Don’t forget to grab some napkins for this delicious, albeit messy, treat.

Taberna Doña Casta: Famous for its wide variety of croquetas, fried to perfection. From meat and cheese to an intriguing mix of chicken and chocolate, this place is a must-visit. Be prepared to wait or stand at the bar as tables fill up quickly.

El Truco: Offers the exceptional Iberico Secreto, a prized cut of Iberico pork from behind the rib, grilled and accompanied by a spicy sauce and potatoes. It’s a perfect choice for a main meal or to share as a tapa.

Taberna Carmelo: Don’t miss the caramelo del Carmelo, featuring slow-cooked pork enveloped in a caramelized sauce and presented with bread, showcasing the rich flavors of Zaragoza’s culinary heritage.

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